Lately gender has become the talk of the Christian blogosphere again, and the perennial question of women’s ordination came up. I was ruminating on a post about this, but I realized I should actually do two posts, because there are really two subjects at issue: what gender means, and what ministry means.
I’ve thought about the former most of my life, since it’s impossible to avoid in our society; but the latter I’m only beginning to think about. I wasn’t brought up to have a minister. When I read about the sex-abuse scandals in Catholicism sometimes I’ll see victims say how awed they were by priests, how awed even their parents were, which made them reluctant to challenge the bad ones. Such a feeling is foreign to me.
But two things, or rather two relationships, have been giving me some idea of what pastorage means. One is my relationship with Telford, who, as I’ve said before, functioned as my de facto pastor at the big church we used to attend. The other is my relationship with my current Lutheran pastor. In some ways the relationships are the same, but they are also different, and this has partly to do with denominational difference.
When the women’s-ordination issue was discussed recently at Lutheran Confessions, Clint points to the New Testament women who are “preachers and prophets and speakers of the Word” as support for women’s ordination. This led Thomas to ask, “What if being ordained is different from preaching and prophesy?”
To Pentecostals, I gather, there isn’t a whole lot of difference. Telford’s own defense of women’s ordination, especially as he has elaborated it to me, leans heavily on the Pentecostal idea that the Spirit bestows gifts on all, and you can’t really predict who gets what gift until it shows up. This leads Pentecostal churches to not only frequently ordain women (though not all of them do), but to have little formal clerical structure at all.
I’ve long been of two minds about this. I like the attempt to recapture the God-intoxicated days of the early church, when the old power structures of ancient Mediterranean societies were being superceded by the kingdom. On the other hand, how do you know when somebody really has the Spirit? Generally, the response of the audience decides, which, especially in today’s culture, can blur the line between charisma in the Christian sense and charisma in the rock-star sense. Hence televangelists.
My current pastor is not a great preacher, but unlike with my previous pastor, I’ve been able to form a friendly relationship with him. He’s a kindhearted, unimposing guy, so I did not feel any particular awe of the office with him either. But I have gotten little flashes of it lately. The first time I felt this was on Ash Wednesday, when I went up to the alter to receive the ashes. Afterwards I found I was literally shaking — I don’t know why, but somehow going up there and receiving the sacrament moved me. Since Easter, I’ve been going up during communion, which I didn’t do before, to receive a blessing.
My response might be to the sacraments themselves, more than to the pastoral office. But I understand how the office has its mythos. I can see why people get irritated when people make the same arguments for women’s ordination that they make for women’s equality in any other employment. We’re not talking about civil-service contracts here.
Still, where I come from, the burden of proof rests on those who would bar a gender from an office rather than those who would let one in. So, I really don’t understand what about the pastoral mythos forbids women.
I’ve also been thinking about this because, oddly enough, my pastor thinks that I would make a good pastor. The first time he said this, several months ago, I thought he would be rid of this delusion as he got to know me, but he’s brought it up several times since then. I wonder what he sees in me.
So I’m curious what you readers think the office of pastor is all about. Since I know several of you are pastors or future pastors, I would think you must have some feel for what you’re called to. But hey, it goes out to the congregants too — what does the pastoral role mean to you?